Here’s a nice surprise: a comics anthology from Cork courtesy of Turncoat Press called I’m Awake, I’m Alive. (For writing’s sake, the title will be abbreviated to IAIA.) Since the other examples of comic anthologies I’ve reviewed here have been found densely around Belfast and Dublin, I for one welcome the Rebel County’s offering of local talent – here’s hoping that either Galway or Mayo will also become a fourth anthology hub, and turn Ireland’s comics anthology market into a nice competitive geographical diamond. (Or that the South East kicks it up a notch somewhere around Kilkenny and turns it into a cooler, ominous, but wonky pentagram.)
IAIA‘s cover is by industry powerhouse and Cork local Will Sliney of Last Rebel‘s main character Jen. There are also other neat pin up offerings at the back of the book by other comic artists, such as Stephen Mooney, Paddy Lynch, Tommie Kelly and Eoin Coveney. There is also a foreword by 2000 AD mainstay and Judge Dredd writer Michael Carroll.
IAIA’s cover comes from its ‘headliner’ comic, Last Rebel by Chris O’Halloran, which is thankfully broken into several parts throughout the book as the overall product is rather weak. Our main girl and anthology muse Jen (who isn’t named until later, despite her backstory monologue) is a hurley-wielding shitkicker delivering her own brand of justice around anarchist Cork city, which has been brought to ruin by a killer mutant virus leaving few survivors. After walloping some mutant cheetahs with her hurley, she’s assigned by the local Don (actually her father) to rescue her sister Grace (who has unstable powers as a result of the virus) from a gang called the Hoods. Turns out Grace is the head of the Hoods, and who wants revenge on her father and Jen, because of being abandoned by Jen and her hatred of her father’s control. She is swiftly felled by Jen’s chloroform rag. Driven by guilt, Jen returns to the Don, defeats his mooks, and flashes her own secret mutant powers. She makes a threat at him to never follow her and Grace again, taking his four-eyed mutant dog as a companion as they walk away from the scene. Last Rebel ends with a hinted promise of more installments, or maybe not.
Last Rebel is a pretty poor opening comic which completely belies the great quality of work in between its parts. The amateur skill level of the art does not match the genre or tone of the story – further dissection of Last Rebels character, layout and background art would be completely moot, as the pages are clearly and laughably unrevised with gross rendering of close up shots. The bright primary colour palette utterly kills the supposed bleakness of a ruined, virus ridden Cork. Last Rebel grasps for a Cork Superhero persona, but tiredly flops flat of a Badass Antihero But Look, Cultural Iconography! Irish comics trope with thin motivation.
The Devil’s Right Hand by Colin O’Mahoney (art by Kevin Keane) is an inner monologue of an anti-hero gunslinger who finds empty reward in killing fellow robbers and indulging in money and women. The art and proportions need more attention despite quite the strong character drawing going on here. The main character looks like he is sinking into his horse in one image, and vanishing points are almost always slap bang at the upper and middle parts of panels. There is also a confusing opening panel where a bank sign looks like its the width of a building, or on closer inspection a sign on a swinging door. The main character’s change from mere average Joe to thief needs more fleshing out and a bigger page count, as he seems immediately swayed towards redemption by the words of a priest as opposed to passing trials and tribulations to grow as a character. Again, a story which needs more room.
Team Up by Colin O’Mahoney, with art duties by Alan Corbett, is a neat concept but also needs more fleshing out. Two unnamed masked superheroes chat during a sudden team up, one topic being the Batman-esque male hero’s romantic involvement with a former heroine called Stitches who has since gone rogue. But he has since felt conflicted with teaming up with someone again, namely the masked heroine in the story, and her words mirror that of Stitches at a key moment. Despite his reputation with graphic novel The Ghost of Shandon, Corbett’s art style is completely misjudged and incompatible with the script, with sausage limbed characters lifelessly beating up crooks as they infiltrate a base. The character art is damned to look featureless and sluggish for a snappy discussion about sexy pasts and unsure trust between teammates.
Naturally It’s A Lie by Emmet O’Brien and Roisin Hanley is an excellent wordless story that opens in an idyllic forest that isn’t what it seems, with neat ink and wash pages by the sole female contributor to the anthology. More of this, please.
Online Dating by Emmet O’Brien and Cethan Leahy is another great short story about a woman on the dating scene, who monologues about what she likes in a man and ends with a neat surprise. The art deserves more care for this one, even if it is in a scratchy telephone-note style.
In Her Classical Element by Emmet O’Brien is the most abstract story in IAIA (with art by Alan Hurley) but is one of the most interesting, about a female embodiment of fire who is prideful and soul searching before being served humble pie by the embodiment of Storm. This entry feels more like an illustrated short story, and if that is the intent, so be it. But even as a short story, the writing contains much more colourful characters, backstory and descriptions than the art cares to show off. Hurley has illustrated comics such as Lady Babylon, but shamefully hasn’t carried over his interesting multimedia layouts into In Her Classical Element. There is some fantastic imagery in the text, but the art does not cross into sequential art to express that. Instead we get full page pin ups of bored female portraits (image nsfw) with zigzagging handwritten lettering, intercut with images of briskly painted buildings where the texture distracts the eye from the text. The paintings have energy, but the figures and layouts do not.
Describing The Drawing Room Scene by Emmet O’Brien and Liam Cuthbert would run the risk of spoilers and thusly cutting this short story shorter, but this is a tale about a brilliant detective who is literally aware of the medium he’s in. Another excellent short strip which could do with a few more pages of playful layouts and art.
The strongest element of IAIA is Emmet O’Brien’s writing, which really suits this format both in script and art direction. O’Brien makes the effort to explore damn good What If scenarios and the human values challenged within them. There are excellent short stories here as a result, rather than the pursuit of the popular and foundationally weak ‘well here’s a Comic Genre, but what if it was set in
A Nation of Natural Storytellers Irelaaaaand?’ ideas pool, ad infinitum. This makes IAIA a more richer and diverse offering than other recent anthologies, or at the very least cancels out the naivette of the anthologies’ weaker stories. A little more pruning and revision is needed for IAIA to become a flawless comic anthology, however as it already stands it has reached a decently high standard for its future rivals to catch up with.